The Egyptian Specie Market and the Gold Crisis of the Fifteenth Century
By Ian Blanchard
Lecture presented at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris, 1985)
Introduction: The years 1375-1434 witnessed an acute dislocation of European gold markets which assumed crisis proportions during the period 1392-1412. After half a century of remarkable stability in the price of gold from 1325-1375, during which market disorders were both ephemeral and localised, mint masters were confronted with a situation of acute instability which ushered in an era of endemic enhancement in the price of the precious metal. For more than half a century, gold prices continually increased. In order to maintain a supply of coins commensurate with the requirements of a stable commodity price level and sufficient to avoid the evils of a protracted deflation mint masters and legislators were forced to either raise mint prices, or, to impose restrictions on the trade in bullion. Thereby they attempted to maintain the level of national specie stocks in a dwindling European total. Nor, as Professor Day has shown, were they entirely unsuccessful. By using these methods the supply of coin diminished much less rapidly than the supply of specie and proved sufficient to ensure stable commodity prices throughout the fifteenth century. Their frenzied activities, as they assumed the role of market equilibriators, however, were symptomatic of a fundamental supply crisis as European gold stocks rapidly diminished.